By Maria Saporta
Former Mayor Andrew Young used to call Atlanta the gateway to Africa.
On Monday, Atlanta leaders took one big step to open that gateway when they launched the year-long Africa Atlanta 2014 collaboration to highlight and strengthen their cross-cultural ties.
“I’m convinced that Atlanta is well-positioned to become a significant partner,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed at a press conference Monday afternoon at City Hall. He added that six of the fastest-growing economies in the next 15 years will be in Africa, and that Atlanta would like to be a friendly partner in that growth.
The Africa Atlanta 2014 initiative, which has the tagline: “Feel the Soul of Africa in the Heart of Atlanta,” includes dozens of sponsors and partner organizations that will be part of the festivities occurring throughout the year.
It will highlight Atlanta as a nexus for strengthening cultural and economic bonds between and among Africa, Europe and the Americas through 50 art and cultural exhibitions, cinema and performances, workshops, conferences and programs.
A centerpiece will be: “Kongo across the Waters” ± a collection of art and artifacts from the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Belgium and the United States. It will be in Atlanta from May 17 to Sept. 21 at the Carter Center.
“With its connections across the Atlanta region and an impressive network of national and international partners, African Atlanta 2014 is bringing a new dimension to the city’s profile and engagement as an international city,” said Reed, who is the honorary co-chair of the Africa Atlanta 2014 International Advisory Board. “Africa Atlanta 2014 is expanding our cultural and artistic offerings for thousands of residents and visitors.”
Africa Atlanta was modeled after the successful France Atlanta exchange that has been occurring annually for four years in the fall. France Atlanta also has explored cultural, academic, government, humanitarian and business exchanges between Atlanta and France during its annual conference.
Georgia Tech has been closely involved with both events.
Jacqueline Royster, dean of Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, called it an idea whose time had come.
“Atlanta is so historically relevant,” said Royster, the creator and organizer of the initiative. She said that when the organizers started working on the program, the events just kept multiplying and the initiative really stretched over 15 months rather than a year.
“Africa is of great interest to people for its cultural richness and variety and its emerging centers of global trade,” Royster said. “Our partners have come together with tremendous enthusiasm for this initiative, which encourages audiences to cast aside outdated perceptions, and rediscover the infinite possibilities of contemporary cultural and economic relationships.”
Reed said that during the year, he will be traveling to Abuja, Nigeria in May and to South Africa in the fall.
Although France Atlanta is an annual event, Africa Atlanta 2014 is a one-time only event. When asked if it would be annual, Royster quickly and loudly said: “No.”
Instead, she said this year would be about establishing long-term relationships that would continue beyond 2014.
The mayor also viewed it as the launch of a multi-year effort with no end date.
“The next four years, the continent of Africa is going to be an area of concentration (for his administration),” Reed said. “We would be wise to be engaged. Folks in the African continent are aware of Atlanta.”
One of first major events to open will be on Friday — “Mapping Place: African Beyond Paper” — an exhibition at Georgia Tech’s Robert C. Williams Paper Museum. The exhibit explores how the changing representation of space has shaped approaches to Africa. Artifacts range from exquisite, hand-drawn and colored 16th Century paper maps to hand-crafted personal Lukasa board to 21st Century geographic information system (GIS) maps. Visitors also will be able to create their own digital maps.
For more information about Africa Atlanta 2014 events, pleas visit: www.AfricaAtlanta.org.